Miomir Kecmanovic's vow to avenge his deported countryman Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open is looking more prescient by the day.
Having been drawn to play the nine-time Open champion in the opening round this year, there is every chance world No.77 Kecmanovic would already be back home in Serbia if not for the intervention of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and the Federal Court.
Instead, the unvaccinated Djokovic made the enforced early exit and now the unheralded Kecmanovic is through to the last 16 at Melbourne Park following a 6-4 6-7 (8-10) 6-2 7-5 victory over Italian No.25 seed Lorenzo Sonego on Friday.
It marks quite the step up in class for Kecmanovic, who had never gone further than the second round in any of his previous 11 grand slam appearances.
"It's unbelievable," Kecmanovic said.
"A week ago I was supposed to play the world No.1 and didn't have much of a chance there, but now I'm in the last 16.
"I'm happy that I was able to use this chance and that I've been playing some really good tennis."
Next up is a challenging fourth-round encounter against Gael Monfils, who beat Chilean 16th seed Cristian Garin 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 6-3.
It's been quite the turn-around at Melbourne Park for the French showman, who crashed out in the opening round in 2021 and was at a loss as to how he would end a "nightmare" run of form.
"To be honest, I tried to not even remember last year," the No.17 seed said.
"I just can say that I'm here, I'm good, I feel good.
"I've worked hard and I've just been playing great tennis for many months now."
Djokovic and Kecmanovic were Davis Cup teammates in 2021 but understandably they have not been in contact since the world No.1 was deported in the midst of a media firestorm.
"He's still recovering from everything, and I didn't really want to bother him, I wanted to give him his space," the 22-year-old Kecmanovic said.
"I'll definitely talk to him eventually after things calm down."
Wimbledon semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov also advanced to the last 16 at Melbourne Park for the first time.
The No.14 seed from Canada outlasted American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3 6-4.
He will take on third-seeded German Alexander Zverev, who made short work of Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot 6-3 6-4 6-4.
Seventh seed Matteo Berrettini survived a huge scare from Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz to move into round four.
The Italian clung on for a thrilling 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 2-6 7-6 (10-5) victory and next faces Pablo Carreno Busta.
The veteran Spaniard ended American youngster Sebastian Korda's charge, banking a 6-4 7-5 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 win.
Rafael Nadal - who is tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 grand slam titles - plays Russian Karen Khachanov in the final match on Rod Laver Arena on Friday night.
Australian Associated Press